Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Turning Point In My Life, Conclusion

(This is part 3.)

What had I done wrong? What was my problem? Would I ever be able to go into ministry? And then, in a flash, the Spirit of God led me to 2 Corinthians 3:5…

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (NASB)

Now, I still had Jim’s word’s floating in my mind, “Prove yourself in the marketplace,” but in a moment I heard different words, not audibly, mind you, but real nonetheless…

“What are you trying to prove? What makes you think you can prove anything?”

In the future, I would look back on this moment as another precious time in my life when the clouds parted and I saw the sun, bright and clear and distinct. Suddenly I understood. In a flash, in a moment of time, everything was absolutely different in my life.

Of course – why hadn’t I seen this before? Undoubtedly, this idea planted in my brain that I should prove myself had some logic to it, a secular logic to be sure, but logic nonetheless. But logical thinking and biblical thinking are often, not always, miles apart. The idea of “proving myself” was actually full of pride, as if I was operating alone in life.

Just suppose that I had gone on to be a 6 figure salesman or regional rental manager. Operating under the premise I had adopted, I would have assumed that I had done it, that I was able, and I would have taken this convoluted thinking into ministry. That would have been a disaster.

Moses warned the people of Israel:

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” Deuteronomy 8:17-18a (ESV)

What makes you think you can prove anything?

For years I had labored to show myself “worthy” of ministry. Now, I understood that the only way I could ever be “worthy” would be under His power, whether that was the marketplace or ministry. I thought I needed to show myself adequate. But I had failed to remember that everything comes from Him.

2 Corinthians 3:5 was doing a work on my heart. I was not adequate, not to be a salesman or a manager, not to be a pastor, or to be a husband or a father…not to be anything. I was totally dependent on Him. And so, that day in Virginia I determined to make a change in the way I prayed. No longer would I ask God for “help”. “Help” was for bodybuilders who had done lots of repetitions but needed a friend to press the weight just one more time. “Help” was what the person asked for who was already doing 90% of the work, who just needed another 10% to get over the top. But I saw that I couldn’t even really muster 1%. I stopped asking Him to help me, and I started asking Him to enable me.

I walked that trail with a song in my heart and a glorious freedom that I hadn’t known for years. Never had I ever been more thrilled to find myself weak and unable. It was a sort of gospel déjà vu.

How so? In days to come, I would see that this Spirit-driven insight – I am unable – was simply another aspect of the gospel for day to day life. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” Colossians 2:6 (ESV) Inability was the one key insight I needed to come to faith – I am unable to live a righteous life. I am a sinner. Therefore, I am unable to please God…I need Jesus – His work on the cross and resurrection. But now I was beginning to understand that I was unable to do anything apart from Him. And just as the gospel freed me to rest in Christ’s righteousness, now this fresh view of the gospel freed me to rest in His power for everyday life.   Of course, I would still need to step out and work hard in whatever He called me to do, but now I had a fresh understanding that even this stepping out was driven by His power and grace, and certainly all the results were His as well.

The greatest blessing of that day? I saw that I no longer had anything to prove.

I began to think about how I should go into ministry.


Posted by on May 31, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Turning Point In My Life, Part 2

(This is part 2. Part one is here.)

I walked into my first dealership one January morning and with a whirlwind of energy, greeted the parts manager with a smile: “Hi, I’m Roger Knowlton with Premier Autoware. I’d like you to have one of my pens – careful it tends to develop feet and walk away. Say, I’ve got some problem solving items for your body man. Does he handle the P.O.’s or do you?” Sometimes for variety’s sake, I shook it up: “It’s a straight-back pen. If it doesn’t work, give it straight-back.”

Premier taught me to memorize the sales pitches, and I honestly didn’t really know what I was saying, especially when it came time to sell the items – “You know that problem with brake lines that crimp and break?” – Honestly, I didn’t know the problem, but the mechanics I talked to always seemed to know what I was talking about. So I continued spouting our “solution-oriented” items, and sometimes by the grace of God, they bought. I hadn’t even owned a car until my uncle Jack took me shopping after graduation, and here I was, a non-car guy getting thrown into the world of body shops and dealerships and service stations…and sales.

I hated it.

These were dark days. I can still smell the curry and spices (there were many Indian residents) down the hallway of the little studio apartment building I had moved into. I found this tiny place (each “apartment” smaller than a dorm room) very near my old dorm, Forbes Hall, and thought it would do me fine. But it was winter in the Midwest, and on top of seasonal affective disorder, I was doing something I was never cut out to do, not to mention feeling very lonely and losing more and more hope by the day.

Walking along the sidewalk in some nameless town one day, I was carrying my case full of solution items for mechanics in one hand and my display book in the other. I don’t remember praying very much that winter, but here was an exception – I stopped and looked up at heaven, and said, “God, do I have to do this the rest of my life?”

It turned out the answer was no. I heard about another sales job working for a company called Mahon Marketing out of Chicago. They needed a manufacturer’s representative for central and southern Illinois. I applied, had good rapport with the owner Bruce, and was hired. I hadn’t proved much of anything at Premier – maybe I could start proving myself at Mahon. Or not. After a year and a half or so with Mahon, still living in Champaign, I applied to work at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I moved north and went to work for them in the Chicago-land area, and after a year or so transferred out to the Washington, D.C. to help my friend John start a church.

And so it was that I found myself four or five years out of college, living in Northern Virginia working for Enterprise…and still not having proved much of anything. I hadn’t shown myself to be much of a salesman, nor had I proven myself in the rental car management area. All in all, I seemed to be decidedly mediocre. The church that John and I had started, however, was off and running. Cedar Run Community Church was a breath of fresh air in my otherwise stale life.

And then one day I took a walk to talk to God. If you’ve never been there, Northern Virginia, suburbs to D.C., is really quite beautiful, with miles of trails made from converted train lines, and I loved to hike these and talk to the Lord. It was a glorious day, and I found myself asking my Creator some questions.

What had I done wrong? What was my problem? Would I ever be able to go into ministry? And sometimes, when you ask God questions like this, out of His goodness and grace, He answers. And His answer would be the turning point of my life.

To be continued…tomorrow.

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Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Turning Point In My Life

I sat waiting at the Illini Orange Canteen. The smell of fall was in the air at the University of Illinois. I had squeezed 4 years into 4 ½, and now the time had come to go out into the “real world.” I would be graduating in December.

I spent many hours at the Illini Orange – the bustling location where I had picked up mail during my college days was also a prime spot for late night greasy pizza – but now it was serving more noble purposes. Bill Tell, the director of Navigators for the state of Illinois, had asked me to get together, and I was pumped about what I supposed was his agenda. Up to this point, my plans after graduation were unclear, but it wasn’t for lack of trying – my interviewing had begun in earnest.

The School of Commerce and Business Administration at the U of I had a good reputation, and I was finishing with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Business Administration, but my heart had never quite been in it. In truth, I had “majored” in the Navigators, learning to share my faith, lead Bible studies, and disciple men. But here I was…trying to put my business degree to work. That meant interviewing.

I remember the set up. Companies would ensconce their recruiter in a business school classroom, or various rooms at the Illini Union hotel, and upon the prospective hour, you would show up in the uniform: dark suit, white shirt and red tie with little paisleys on it, a style in vogue at the end of the 1980s.

Of course, the idea was eventually to get a job offer, but the second interview was the immediate goal, usually meaning an invite and all-expenses-paid trip to the company’s headquarters. I had lots of interviews on campus, but only two big trips that I remember: Frito Lay had brought me to Dallas, and Dow Chemical had flown me to Michigan, but no offers of employment had followed. All in all, this meant lots of rejection letters, with which, following custom, I dutifully papered my dorm room door.

And now Bill Tell was recruiting, but it wasn’t really an interview: Bill had come to offer me a job.

I had looked up to him for a long time. In the tradition of the Navigators, he was a great student of Scripture with a quiet, strong manner, a crooked smile with a twinkle in his eye that made you feel he was on your side. In the Nav hierarchy, Bill was high on the food chain, and yet, much more than that, seemed to know God.

I remember his testimony. He had come to Christ during his college days through another student who, after leading him to Christ and briefly discipling him, dropped dead of a brain aneurism…the kind of experience that would tend to put eternity on your heart.

So as graduation was approaching and my plans were yet unsure, I knew that I wouldn’t be spending too many more hours at the Illini Orange. But I was looking forward to this one.

After pleasantries that afternoon, Bill spoke up: “Rog, we’d like you to consider coming on State Staff with the Navs.”

“State Staff” was a new hybrid position with the organization. It involved raising support to work part time for the Navigators and getting some sort of job for 20 or so hours the rest of the week. I would be doing ministry, and getting paid for it. It was really what I had always wanted, and I told Bill I would pray.

In some ways I had been heading this way since West Point. Even back then I had told Bob Maruna that I wanted to be a pastor, but my father had directed me away from my interest in Moody Bible Institute with a telling word: “I had always wanted you to go to a real college.”

So now I was finishing a degree from this real college and considering doing some unreal ministry work. Dad was a Christian now, and I knew he would be supportive, but what did God want?

I decided to talk it over with my dear friends Jim and Sharon Cooper.

Jim was the full-time Navigator staff member over the area of campus with a half dozen look-alike dorms known as the 6 pack. He and Sharon had been second parents to me ever since they had come to Champaign before my junior year. Not only did they disciple me in the faith, but they had me over to eat constantly, talked me through girl troubles, loaned me money ($500, a debt I think they forgave), and all in all treated me like a son. They were models of life-on-life discipleship.

And yet, to this day, I’ll never forget the advice Jim gave me: “Rog, before you go into ministry, first prove yourself in the marketplace.”

Jim had been an engineer and Sharon an accountant at Caterpillar in Peoria before coming on staff with the Navigators, and so I suppose they had lived their own advice, and it was natural to pass it on to me.

Prove yourself in the marketplace.

Jim’s advice was not a principle from Scripture, but it made sense. So, with Jim’s 5 words ringing in my ears, I turned Bill’s offer down and took a sales job with a automotive aftermarket company called Premier Autoware out of Cleveland, Ohio. It was for Premier that I would begin the task…of proving myself.

To be continued…here

On Monday, June 1st, we’ll turn to consider 2 Corinthians 4.


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Posted by on May 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How We Are Outwitted By Satan


We are often confused about the main way the enemy of our souls attacks us.

Now I’m sure that he comes against us in many different ways, all of which I myself do not know; but I think we too often imagine Exorcist-like warfare with crosses held high and twisting heads as in the movie. And while I’ve never seen “The Exorcist” and thus don’t know the music, I think we imagine our warfare with Satan to be set to music like the “Psycho” soundtrack, the now well-known shrieking sound of mainstream slasher movies.

However…in reality, his efforts against us need no such melodramatic tones. Instead, apparently, he just quietly whispers unforgiving thoughts in our ears, and therefore keeps us from reconciling with one another. How subtle and simple and…incredibly destructive.

Paul knew his plans, and so he wrote to the church at Corinth, apparently about the man who had led a revolt against the Apostle himself:

So you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2:7-11 (ESV)

Do you understand what God is saying through the Apostle? It’s this: Be sure to forgive, so you will not be outwitted by Satan.

You see, our enemy needs no loud pulsing music, no twisting heads or bloody knives, no Ouija boards or tarot cards. All he needs is a thought…or two: “She’s acting so nice to you now, but think about how she hurt you.” “Don’t forget what he said.” “I know it happened 10 years ago, but you should never forget the wrongs committed against you.”

And if you buy it, if you listen to him, the enemy will have a foothold in your life to plant a root of bitterness by which you yourself and many others will be defiled (Hebrews 12:15).

I know that some reading this will have encountered horrible injustices in their lives, wrongs committed against them that I can really not imagine. So I do not say forgiveness will be easy. In fact, it is one of the hardest things we ever do, because the only way we can truly grant mercy to someone who has hurt us is to in a sense, pay for their wrongs on our own. If you borrow my car and wreck it, either I make you pay for repairs or I pay myself, but true forgiveness always comes at a cost. Anyone looking at the cross knows that.

Thus, Calvary becomes the source of our forgiveness and the source of our strength to fight against the enemy’s designs. For the One Who said of His crucifiers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), also forgave the likes of us sinners who have trusted in Him.

He only asks of us that we extend the same costly forgiveness to others, and when we do…we crush the plans of the enemy.

For Friday, May 29th: 2 Corinthians 3

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Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Praying for a Baby, Part 2

(This is part 2. The story of our early struggle with infertility begins here.)

Okay, logic said, we definitely needed to keep this thing under wraps. We had a history, after all, and telling people would just lead to awkward conversations should the dreaded loss come our way again.

But it came to me one day in a flash that this was all wrong. We needed prayer. We needed lots of prayer. We wanted this baby, and we knew One Who, if He chose, could still storms and keep miscarriages at bay. And so it was that early in the pregnancy…we started telling people far and wide, and we started asking them to pray.

We told them about previous miscarriages. We told about our sadness. We told them that we needed their prayers now. We told and we told and we told.

It’s an interesting question that I have pondered through the years – does having more people pray lead to more or perhaps, faster affirmative answers from heaven? There is a certain logic to it. If I am a salesman, I want to make a lot of sales calls. The more calls, the more sales. Any sales manager worth his salt knows this. If I am drilling for oil, I want to drill a lot of different places – the more I drill, the more likely I am to strike black gold. Or perhaps a better analogy, if a father has 5 of his children begging for a trip to Disney, does that move him more than if only one of his kids is nipping at his heels to see Mickey?

Does having a large number of people pray move God’s heart more than small numbers of people?

In the end, I’m not sure. Of course, Jesus did say, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19 (ESV). The context for this quote is church discipline, and so many dismiss it when you speak of prayer in relation to it. But I don’t buy that – I think it means what it looks like it means. Jesus is talking about prayer and encouraging people to come together, and He surely seems to say that there is a certain power in it – “it will be done for them…”

So when it comes to prayer, if two are better than one, wouldn’t 10 be five times more effective than two? Here logic loses…that’s not a leap I think we can make.

But this much I know, if you have 100 people praying, and God answers in the affirmative, then you have 100 people glorifying Him for His goodness and grace. If only 10 are praying, then when good news comes, only 10 are filled with gratitude and praise.

This last bit of thinking is more than logic – it is Bible.

Consider this truth in light of 2 Corinthians 1:11…

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.  (ESV)

Talk about affliction and pain – Paul and Timothy had experienced incredible persecution as they labored for Christ in Asia. Apparently, it was so bad that they thought they were at death’s door, they “felt that (they) had received the sentence of death.” To that end, he says, we need you to pray.

And the Apostle makes it clear that if many will pray, many will also give thanks for the blessings granted through their prayers.

But there is more here than meets the eye – it seems as if this future thanksgiving is the very purpose of the prayer. In other words, the real reason he wants them to pray is so that they will give thanks…in the end. Why must they help by prayer? Not first and foremost so that Paul and Timothy will be delivered, but “so that many will give thanks on our behalf.” Of course, the Bible doesn’t always phrase the purpose of prayer this way, but it does here. And in the end, it is all tied together – when the blessings are granted, when deliverance comes, when prayers are answered…then comes thanksgiving.

And notice that the greater number of people who pray, the greater number of people will give thanks. Many give thanks for the prayers of many. So it is indeed a divine idea to recruit large numbers of people to pray, because if large numbers pray, large numbers will glorify God.

As for us, large numbers? Well, many at least…and in the end, enough.

Joshua Kendon Knowlton was born on February 17, 1995. And I’m pretty certain that many…gave thanks.

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Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Praying for a Baby

“You should know that I’m not much of a handyman,” I told Bill. “My wife can’t count on me to do much of anything around the house.”

There’s the old chestnut that says honesty is the best policy, and if we were going to be offered this position managing the self-storage units called The Padlock, then my lack of handyman prowess seemed like a factoid that I should lay on the table before the owner Bill.

“Hmmm…well, thanks for telling me,” Bill said. “That’s not a deal-breaker. We can work around it.”

And so it was that in the spring of 1993, we packed up our little apartment in Vienna, Virginia, and headed back to the Midwest and our new place above a self-storage business in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. The bedroom itself was a converted storage locker, the bathroom was full of mold, and the whole place needed a good coat of paint, but it was our new home, my new job (the residence + $300/month), and God’s provision as I began my seminary days.

The Padlock was in an industrial area, down a dead-end dirt road and right next to a “refuse transfer center” – that’s what we called it anyway. Garbage trucks would come there during the day and transfer their trash to a larger truck, which would haul it all away. Ah, the smell of the neighborhood after a spring rain.

With her Master’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, my sweetie soon landed a job working for The Children’s Home and Aid Society, a company that contracted for the Department of Children and Family Services. Her job was family reunification; the gist of it was that she visited and checked on families that had been repeatedly accused of abuse or neglect. It was a tough job – I don’t think she was ever welcomed with open arms at the homes she visited, but she was finally working in her field after serving as an executive secretary in Northern Virginia.

So our new life was filled with the standard hardships of a couple starting out in life, but we were happy, and the future seemed bright.

When the Christmas season of 1993 arrived, we received an early gift of the best sort: Diane was pregnant. We had no idea how we were going to do this financially, but we were young and trusting God…and absolutely thrilled. I remember in particular one bright, blustery Saturday in early December when we headed out on the town with our little secret (we determined to keep it to ourselves until the 12 week mark), and a double mission – first, get a tree to bring a little Christmas spirit to our Padlock home, and second, to pick up a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It was a great day of being together and celebrating what God was doing in our lives, but clouds were about to darken the days to come.

One evening, she was at her second job teaching a Marriage and Family class at Joliet Junior College (I called her “the Professor”), when in the restroom, she noticed some spotting. When she told me that night, we prayed, and made plans to see the doctor the next day.

“We’ll be able to tell by measuring your HCG levels,” the doc told us. “In a healthy pregnancy, the levels are multiplying. If you are miscarrying, the levels will be dropping.” And in another two days, the levels had indeed gone down. Our fears were confirmed. We were losing the baby.

Solomon had it just about perfect: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. That’s the verse that fits, I think. We had hope…the hope was deferred…our hearts…were sick.

But time heals heartsickness…and we began to recover. And whereas before we had stumbled into pregnancy, now we were, let’s say, more deliberate, which was just fine with me.

Before too long, our “hard work” paid off: the home test was positive once again; this time, however, we suppressed our joy. We knew what overriding happiness had brought us in the past, so we were determined to muffle it this time. “Okay, okay, good,” our thinking went, “but let’s not get too excited.” And to go along with our muffled joy, we kept it to ourselves again – that strategy had been important the first time – we didn’t have to endure awkward conversations with friends wondering how our little bundle of joy was doing.

But it wasn’t too long before our hope was deferred…again. Diane lost baby number 2 even sooner than the first.

For whatever reason, we went out for Chinese food that night, full of grief…and questions. Was something wrong with us? Would we ever have a child? The tidal wave of fear that had washed over so many in generations before now came to our shores.

But…life. Diane had a job, and I had the Padlock and my theological studies; we needed to keep moving. So we did. Meanwhile, our friends started having babies. When Diane was first pregnant, I remember having a thought about a good buddy of mine and how I was going to beat him to fatherhood.   That was dumb. And I felt even worse when we got the notice that he and his wife were expecting their first. Pain was all around us.

And then, for the third time, the early pregnancy test showed a life growing in Diane’s womb. So…now what? Well…there have been moments in life when thoughts and ideas have presented themselves so clearly to me that I just knew they were true. I had such a moment as I pondered our third pregnancy…

To be continued…here: Praying for a Baby, Part 2 


Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why Does God Want Us To Appreciate One Another?

IMG_1186He does, you know. But why?

It was on an ordinary Friday evening a few weeks back that Edgewood Community Church organized its first volunteer appreciation night. What a great time.

There were gifts and prizes (waterparks and a kindle and gift cards and even a prime parking spot). There was tasty food served by handsome, well-dressed waiters (wink, wink). There were even shoulder rubs all night by three professional masseuses (Do you doubt me? I looked it up – indeed, that is the official plural of masseuse). We wanted to say thank you…and I think we accomplished it.

Honestly, the night didn’t come from my impetus but some of the other staff (who, of course, I should publicly acknowledge now but I fear I would miss someone).  Anyway, now I’m only sorry we waited so long to have such a night, but I’m thankful for the staff that brought it to pass. If you don’t live here in Wisconsin, you now have a reason to move to our fair state and this fair city of Waupun. If you’re an Edgewood servant and you missed the night, well, fear not because we hope to do it up again next year. And if you’re an Edgewood attendee but not serving – well, get busy so you’ll get an invitation next year (not to mention for a host of other even better reasons).

But I digress – did you know that our night was very biblical? I mention this because there is a tendency on the part of some to think that volunteer appreciation is a construct of worldly thinkers who are just trying to run the church like a business. Not so. Of course we know that it’s biblical to say thank you. The one appreciative leper – whose momma taught him well – convinced us of that (And by the way, where were the other nine? See Luke 17). But more than that, it’s right to publicly appreciate excellence in God’s servants, as Paul teaches the Corinthians:

Now I urge you, brothers– you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people. 1 Corinthians 16:15-18 (ESV)

The NLT spells that last thought out quite nicely:

…You must show your appreciation to all who serve so well. 1 Corinthians 16:18 (NLT)

You get the idea: Offer a public acknowledgement to faithful servants. And when you think about it, Paul was doing just that in this letter, not to mention in Romans 16 and other places. He practiced what he preached.

But…are you curious as to why?

Okay, well, let me try my hand at channeling C.S. Lewis for a few sentences, and then I will relieve you by simply quoting him.

IMG_1187Do you remember the time your mom or dad took you to the park as a child? If you do, that is if you were blessed enough to have such an experience once or twice, then remember what you said when you were swinging high and their attention was elsewhere: “Mom, Mom, Mom…Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”  In that moment, what did you desperately want? Didn’t you want what all of us want…ultimately? Don’t all of us want to one day hear, not ultimately, “Good job, Suzy, I see you in the swing,” but instead, a far greater appreciation…coming from a far Greater One.

So…we are commanded to praise and acknowledge one another, because ultimately we were all created to please. And therefore, when we are appreciated, it completes the circuit. But of course, we are truly created to please God, not one another, and yet there is great pleasure in hearing today what we ultimately only be satisfied hearing from Him.

And now Lewis…

“The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

And so our volunteer appreciation night a few weeks ago was right and good because God wanted to give us a foretaste, but a mere foretaste, a blessed hint giving an ever so slight sense of what we will see and hear on that day, when we, because of Christ…see the Father’s smile and hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Master.”


For Wednesday, May 27th: 2 Corinthians 1

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Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Would You Know My Name…?

After Eric Clapton’s son Conor died tragically in 1991, the singer wrote a beautiful song asking a haunting question, a question that I believe many have pondered through the years:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton

Will I know you in heaven? I think my mom used to wonder about this – somewhere she came up with the idea that we won’t know anyone there. Ergo, a hundred years from now, if you bumped into someone beyond the Pearly Gates, it might be your Uncle Melvin or it might be the Apostle Paul, but you wouldn’t know – you would both just have your celestial smiles on full power and say “Excuse me.”

What a sad and hopeless thought.

But fear not. It’s surely wrong. When Jesus went up on the Mount of Transfiguration, He knew Moses and Elijah, as did also apparently Peter, James and John. And even more importantly than that, the disciples knew that it was Jesus after He was resurrected. Well, mostly they knew, I suppose. He apparently wasn’t as easy to recognize as before, and there was a bit of fumbling, but overall they got it right.

You see, He was different…and yet the same. And that’s how it will be in heaven.

Paul writes about it helpfully in 1 Corinthians 15, as he says that our bodies on earth now are like the seeds and our bodies in heaven will be like the corresponding full grown plants:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (ESV)

I find this extremely helpful. It also answers the question regarding what happens to a body that is destroyed in death, as in a fire or just after centuries of decomposition (Sorry, I don’t mean to go all CSI on you). Anyway, if you’ve wondered about these things (and it’s not just my weird mind) lay your curiosity to rest – I can’t tell you exactly what it will be like, but I can tell you that it’s going to be wonderful. Your body on earth will be a kind of seed for a glorious resurrection body.

So the Apostle writes…

It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 (ESV)

Now, I have a calling on my life that leads me into the inner world of dying people. And I can testify that when Paul says “dishonor”, he has chosen an apt word.  For there is no honor in the body when it is wasting away. And when he says “weakness”, well, I think he must have seen many before death as well. Weakness is all that is left.

But the wonderful truth of the resurrection is that the dishonor and weakness of our dying bodies ends in glory and power, yea, even in victory:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:54 ESV)

And so, make no mistake. When we bump into a dear loved one on the other side, we will do more than flash a cheesy smile and say, “Excuse me.”

We will look with love and wonder upon the victory that God has wrought…and we will greet one another by name.

For Tuesday, May 26th: 1 Corinthians 16

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Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Most Important Worship Service Attendee

Shortly after I became a Christian in 1982, my friend Lore told me she knew of a church that I just had to visit. The name of the church was Willow Creek Community Church, a new “mega-church” which had started in the mid-70’s and was a “new way of doing church.” Though it was almost an hour’s drive from our hometown of Antioch – in the town of South Barrington, Illinois – before too long I did visit the church and was definitely impressed – I remember giving a whopping (for me, at least) $50 to their building program when they passed the hat. I would eventually end up attending Willow in the late 80’s after graduating from college.

And it was during that latter time when I met John Cox, a recent grad of Fuller Seminary and a Willow intern who told me that he wanted to start a Willow Creek-style church either on the West coast or the East Coast. Didn’t matter that much to me – I was young and carefree (and single). John settled on Washington, D.C., and I followed him to start Cedar Run Community Church in Chantilly, Virginia.

Behind the scenes, “Willow Creek-style” meant “seeker-targeted church”, “seeker” being the new, cooler, and I guess less-judgmental name for non-believers. Other churches might have been seeker-sensitive, but Willow was targeted toward the lost. The seeker-targeted liturgy (for all churches have some form of liturgy) meant that we didn’t sing more than one congregational song in the weekend service, we always had a drama, the preaching was generally topical around a felt-need, and when someone read Scripture, they also gave a little story/illustration to accompany their reading (It was in doing these sermonettes that I really first began cutting my teeth on preaching). A regular mid-week worship service with much more singing and somewhat expositional preaching and communion (never served on the weekend) was also part of the plan. Willow had perfected the seeker-targeted format, and in fairness, it seemed to “work” for them. Through the years, while attending Willow or another seeker-targeted church similar to it, many people would come to Christ (one of whom would be my father who was attending Lakehurst Community Church in Waukegan when he became a believer).

But I eventually began to question the whole idea of the seeker-targeted church. Willow was seeker-targeted because that was the goal of the worship service and of the church in general – to bring seekers in. But I began to wonder if that really should have been the goal. Of course, we were to reach out to lost people, but was that to be the main goal? Doubts had begun to form in my mind. I read John Piper’s classic Desiring God, and more than that, I was cutting my teeth on Reformed theology. The end result was a Copernican shift in my world view. The seeker-targeted church was ultimately people-centered and seemed logical. But did I want logical…or biblical? I began to see that the Bible (and therefore God Himself) was not people-centered, but radically God-centered. Of course, God loved people, or as Willow put it again and again, “Lost people matter to God,” but the glory of God was becoming my highest value, and that was right, because it was also God’s highest value. (See Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World)

As Piper put it so beautifully in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad

Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more…”

So in reading the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians, I see this…

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 (ESV)

The seeker-targeted church sought to have seekers come to church, not a bad idea, just not the highest idea. I’ve come to see that the highest goal is that God should come to church, because when He visits a worship service, incredible things happen. Along the way, I’ve toyed – never seriously – with the idea of a book called The God-Targeted Church, but I don’t think I’ll be writing that anytime soon, so maybe someone else should.

Book or no book, I do know that this is what I want our church to be – we want to so pray and preach the Word and worship and proclaim the gospel and love one another that God the Holy Spirit visits every weekend.

And the end result of this will be that when a lost person does visit Edgewood (and by God’s grace they do every weekend) he or she will declare quite truthfully…that God is really among us.

For Monday, May 25th: 1 Corinthians 15


Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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As Wise As Ever After 84 Years…

IMG_20140103_185334_566From the blogging files – a story that I thought might merit a retelling – from January of 2014…

We had quite a celebration this past Friday night.  Mom turned 84.

Annie was out of town, but the rest of us made big plans to take the birthday girl to Culvers where she enjoys Root beer and cheeseburgers.  I knew the frigid temperature and biting wind could be a factor in our scheme, but I guess I didn’t realize how much.  In the end, we actually made three attempts to get her from the warmth of the Christian Homestead into my waiting car, but she howled in protest each time we ventured outdoors.  We compromised by bringing A & W to her.

Josh, a CNA who has actually worked a few shifts at the Homestead, noted like a sage that you often don’t know what a person with Alzheimer’s actually wants and needs – but when you do know, well, of course, you try to meet those desires.  And we knew.  She wanted to stay inside…where it’s warm.

She’s always been a smart lady.

And that never really stops, even though nowadays she can’t have a conversation with me about the latest book she’s read (she used to devour novels) or pontificate about what’s going on in the Nation’s Capital (she was once the definition of a political junkie).

Anyway, as I think about her 84 years on planet earth, and my years with her, one lesson in particular stands out:

It was late 1982 or 1983 – I was a new Christian, home from recently resigning at West Point and growing in my newfound faith at the Antioch Evangelical Free Church.  The following year I would head to the U of I to pursue a business degree, but for now I was working days at a factory in Addison, Illinois and spending much of the evenings at a Bible study or hanging out with other single adults from our church.

One night I came home at about 10 p.m., relatively late in light of the fact that I would be getting up around 4:30 or 5 the next morning for work.  Dad had gone to sleep, but she was up, surely waiting for me, and when I walked in, she asked me how my day had been.

“Fine,” I said curtly, “but I can’t talk now – I haven’t read my Bible yet, and I’m committed to the daily quiet time.” And I was off to my room…to do the most important thing.

I thought no more of it, that is, until the next day, when I came home from work and found a note on the desk in my bedroom. Though I don’t have the letter she wrote today, the thought behind it is as fresh as the day she wrote it.

“Rog, I appreciate your desire to read the Bible.  It seems like that is something a good Christian should do.  But in the future, you might want to also consider something the Bible itself teaches, words of one of my favorite passages of Scripture…”

You know what she wrote out, right?

That afternoon on the desk in my bedroom in our duplex at 650 North Avenue, I found the immortal words from Paul the Apostle to the church at Corinth.  She wrote out the whole of 1 Corinthians 13.  I’ll just give you the first part:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

1 Corinthians 13:1 – 4 (NIV)

And after reading her note that day, I like to think that maybe, just maybe…I’ve never been the same.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Mom.  Thanks for everything.  Let’s keep warm, huh?

For Friday, May 21st: 1 Corinthians 14

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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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